First full day of spring. A week ago it was mid-40's and sunny. When I took the dogs out the birds seemed deafening. After months of wind as the loudest narrator of our walks, the volume was startling. And fun.
And then Monday night, we got two inches of slush dumped on us. As Finn, Uly and I headed out the sound track was back to a variation on winter- the cold, slow, tinkling of sleet. And the crunch of slush under foot.
Before long we found tracks of someone else.
We hear coyotes all the time, at least several times each week. Last winter there was a cat fight under our bedroom window. I went out to break it up, and found a coyote, buried to his waist in the hedge, trying to get at our 9 lb sociopathic spidermonkey of a cat, Max. The coyote seemed to disappear, vaporize before my eyes. Then I heard him meet up with the rest of his group in the dark, and they yipped their way out into the fields behind us.
Max was spastic with adrenalin for a few minutes, but eventually no worse for wear.
On Tuesday we came across the tracks in the snow, and after a moment, I compared them to our own. They were fresh in the soft slushy ground covering, not degraded much at all. Finn and Uly were on them immediately, noses to the ground, then looking to me, then back to the tracks. And off we went.
We hear them all the time, but see them rarely. Darby and I stood and watched one last year for 15 minutes. It didn't move, just stared at us. The dogs couldn't see him because of their lower sightline. We just stood and stared right back, eventually moving on, feeling as if we had interrupted him long enough.
A couple years before that I came face to face with one in a blizzard. The dogs were trailing behind me. I was walking head down, just trying to keep moving and get the dogs worn out. They never seem to care that the weather is nasty, and need the exercise to keep them from getting too wound up. Tired dog is a good dog. And I was enjoying the blizzard, plowing along with my head down. Just as I turned east over a culvert, I sensed something ahead of me. He must have done the same thing, because just as my head came up, so did his, and we locked on each other about 15 ft apart. I'm sure if the visibility had been much more then the 25 feet we had that afternoon he would never have let it happen.
We stared for a moment, frozen. I heard the dogs' collars tinkling behind me, turned to cut them off before a chase. But when I glanced back ahead, there was no need, the coyote had vanished. With the wind and heavy snow, the dogs didn't even nose the tracks.
But on Tuesday, they were beside themselves. Uly racing all over, checking the twin tracks of the first trail, then bounding over to a third pair that was raggedly paralleling the first. Finn moved with power and purpose, forgetting her age. It made me remember her 5 years ago- possibly the most athletic animal I've ever seen. And they were so busy going forward coming back, Uly circling between the two paths, I stayed right with them. I clicked a couple pictures, then glanced up at the woods ahead. Movement. Wait.... there again. The single coyote, looking dark in the damp woods. And then to the right, the pair. And they froze, looking over their shoulders our way.
Uly bounded forward, and they were gone.